Meet Our June Cover Star: The Region's First Curvy Supermodel Ameni Esseibi

...and her squad of fabulous body positive girls who practise what they preach - #BEYOULOVEYOU!
Meet Our June Cover Star: The Region's First Curvy Supermodel Ameni Esseibi

Twenty-year-old Ameni Esseibi (@ameniesseibi) is the Middle East’s first curvy model. She, along with girls like Hadeel Marei (@hadeelmarei) and Zina Kharma (@zinakharma), are exactly the voices Gen Z need right now. Listen up – Ameni and her girls have a LOT to say and it all starts and ends with Cosmo’s Body Confidence anthem #BeYouLoveYou.

Ameni bursts into rooms and has the kind of boom boom energy that ricochets off walls and lands arrow-straight in your heart. That’s Tunisian born and Dubai-raised Ameni for you in a nutshell. We’re sitting across from each other, my body safely tucked into Spanx to avoid any accidental over-spill. Ameni, on the other hand, is wearing a short t-shirt dress, doesn’t even own a pair of Spanx and is unapologetic about every aspect of who she is. “People either hate me or love me,” she laughs. “I don’t really care anymore. I used to but there’s so much more to life than worrying about what people think of you and how you look, which boy likes you and which crowd accepts you.”

I’m well into my 30s and it’s taken me more than three decades of failure to accept me for me. How did Ameni skip the infamous teen angst? “Guess I saw stuff early in my life which helped me look beyond the everyday rubbish.” Her mother was diagnosed with cancer five years ago and she lost her grandmother a couple of years before that. A double mastectomy, chemo and radiation were rough on the Esseibi household, but Ameni emerged from it with a priceless slice of perspective. “Yeah, I’ve been hurt. I’ve been called unattractive, but then it doesn’t matter what size you are. You know the skinny girls? The ones who you think should be really happy with the way they look? They’re not! When I heard them complaining, that was it for me. If they couldn’t wear a bikini with their ‘perfect’ bodies, then who was I to hate myself? I realised that how you feel about the way you look is a total state of mind.”

    Dress, Marina Rinaldi

Easier said than done. Wasn’t she ever bullied? “Not bullied but I was called names like ‘Whale-Meni’. It hurt but I have pretty thick skin. Call it a blessing or a curse, but I’ve never really cared how I’m judged. People have opinions on everything, right from the way you walk and talk to how you eat, dress and behave. I’m not going to let others dictate my life.

“There’s this funny story. When we would go for a swim, the thin girls would tell me to stand at the steps with a towel as they were too nervous to get out of the pool. I just couldn’t understand it! They looked great.” Ameni refused to give them the towel and instead, strut her stuff in a two-piece. “This is my body. I’ll wear what I like. If you don’t want to look at me, don’t.” Every one of her friends suffered from body woes over what they should look like (think photo-shopped Insta-mannequins). “‘Oh my God Ameni I hate my stomach. I hate my thighs, my face…’ It was endless. I wanted to be a role model for girls and make them accept themselves the way I had. You can make yourself feel good. I work out, I eat clean; if I have acne I go to a dermatologist and get the help I need, as should everyone. Bottom line, you have the power to make yourself feel good.”
So how did modelling enter the picture? “I was always obsessed with fashion. When I was sixteen I interned in Dior’s PR department, went on shoots and just fell in love with it all. Also, Nadine Kanso is my best friend’s mum; she’s literally like my second mother and I would visit her at D3 all the time. I loved what she did and the fashion world. Then it hit me, I have the personality, I love fashion, I have the contacts and I know what I’m passionate about… so what am I waiting for?!”

Dress, Dhs1,760, belt, Dhs410, glitter trainers, Dhs1,115, all Marina Rinaldi

The catch: it was July of 2017 and she was meant to go to Concordia, Montreal for uni in September. “My parents were really mad when I told them I wanted to quit uni to stay in Dubai and work. My father literally thought I was mental.” She started studying in AUD to mollify the ‘rents but spent most of her time getting her foot into the modelling world. She has since enrolled in AUE, where she’s been offered a full scholarship.

“It wasn’t easy. I would literally DM people all day long. But what worked in my favour was that I really didn’t care about being rejected. If you want to be successful, then failure is normal. You want to be really good at what you do? Get slapped around a little.” Her thick skin took her a long way. There were a lot of no’s but a few photographers agreed. Then came the agencies. “I would call them and the first question they asked me was what size I was. When I said I was plus size, everyone said no and that there was no demand or market for models like me and I should go to the US, Australia or UK.  There was one agency who said yes and asked me to gain 20 kilos because I wasn’t curvy enough! The fact that so many people rejected me only made me want to do it more. And I promised myself that the moment I got the official title of the first curvy model in the Middle.

Hadeel wears:
T-shirt, Dhs505
Leggings, Dhs470, all Marina Rinaldi


Ameni wears: T-shirt, Dhs505
Leggings, Dhs470, all Marina Rinaldi

Zina wears:
T-shirt, Dhs505
Leggings, Dhs1,170, all Marina Rinaldi

East, I wouldn’t work with them at all!”
Her persistence paid off and she finally signed with The Agency .“I never got a job through them, though; agencies in Dubai are not like international ones.
They don’t fight for you. You’ve got to fight for yourself. It was awesome that The Agency believed in me and my message but they were very clear that they couldn’t guarantee me anything.” One thing led to another and soon Bareface, Wilhelmina, MA Modelling, Niche Models and others in Kuwait and Beirut followed.

“In July of 2018 I did my first shoot with MAX and I knew there would be no going back. I spent the summer in Tunis, came back in September, signed all the contracts and got the official title of being the first curvy model in the Middle East.”
Ameni then smartly continued to network, using her official title to make headway. “I would DM people asking for advice, knock on PR agencies’ doors, asked for the owners and told them about the body confidence message I wanted to spread. It somehow led to my first editorial with Vogue Arabia and 11 Honoré’s opening followed. The CEO, Patrick Herning told me, ‘Ameni, do you know how long I’ve been looking for you?’. That blew me away – I had the whole curvy market to myself and was finally on my way to helping so many girls. It was liberating.”
It’s hard to believe that Ameni broke into the scene less than a year back. Take this: Back-to-back photoshoots with the region’s most popular brands including the global campaign for Farfetch, Splash and Namshi; and interviews with major publications and radio stations from Dubai to Tunis and New York. “This is just the beginning. I want to do so much! Give TED talks on body confidence, start my own curvy fashion brand, host a TV show to help girls feel good about themselves….”

Bomber jacket, Dhs5,320,
Marina Rinaldi x  Fausto Puglisi
Trainers, Dhs1,115, all Marina Rinaldi

Ameni has already started a body confidence revolution. Girls like Hadeel Marei and Zina Kharma, Gen Z’ers who are forces of nature in themselves, are suddenly unafraid to appear in pages of a glossy mag, stick their heads back and pose. You may eat normally, work out as much as any other girl but your body is a made a certain way, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Just starting to accept that you can be beautiful and be you, is empowering. And if that’s not fabulous, nothing is.

MEET HADEEL

T-shirt, Dhs505
Leggings, Dhs470
Trainers, Dhs1,115
Hoodie, Dhs1,120, all Marina Rinaldi

Twenty-four-year-old Egyptian Hadeel Marei has not only dug deep and found herself, she’s slaying life as a dentist, comedian and YouTuber (with 180,000 subscribers at the time we go to press).  “I love putting a smile on people’s faces and making light of life. All my content is situational and lifestyle-related.” Her take on the kinds of people who sit next to you on an airplane is my fave. Think tears streaming down your face funny. How did she get started? “My friend Maha AJ
really motivated me. I started with one video a day on Instagram and then moved to YouTube. I had no idea what I was doing when I filmed my first video. But I noticed that it elevated my mood and improved my mentality and my psyche. Honestly, I don’t care about numbers or anything like that. All that matters is I’m expressing myself.”
Hadeel’s content is for the regular girl-next-door. “Everything I do is for the average girl and covers the average life. There’s nothing glamorous about it at all.

“I used to hate myself. But now I’ve learned to accept who I am and be comfortable in my skin. I live with me 24/7 and if there’s no love there, then where would I find any sort of acceptance at all?”

MEET ZINA

Crop top, Dhs830
Leggings, Dhs1,170 all Marina Rinaldi

Nineteen-year-old Lebanese Zina Kharma is a student of Psychology at Middlesex University. “I’ve always been interested in why people do what they do and where it all comes from ever since I was a young child. The moment I was old enough, I started interning at clinics to get firsthand experience” In Dubai since she was a one-year-old, Zina has suffered her share of insecurities. “I was always overweight as a child but I wasn’t affected by it till later. Suddenly, all the girls around me were much smaller and I felt alone.” Has she learned to love and accept herself for who she is? “Honestly, I’m on the road to loving myself. It’s been difficult. There have been times when I dieted so I could fit into something and when I go in to try in on, it still doesn’t. But what helps is seeing girls like Ameni talk about loving yourself no matter what size you are. She’s a real inspiration to me.”

L-R:

Zina wears:
Crop top, Dhs830
Leggings, Dhs1,170
Hoodie, Dhs1,120, all Marina Rinaldi

Ameni wears:
Leather jacket, Dhs2,580
Crop top, Dhs830
Leggings, Dhs1,170
Trainers, Dhs1,115, all Marina Rinaldi

Hadeel wears:
T-shirt, Dhs505
Leggings, Dhs470
Hoodie, Dhs1,120
Trainers, Dhs1,115, all Marina Rinaldi

BY KAVITA SRINIVASAN @KAVITASRIN
PHOTOGRAPHY: OLIVER DORAN @OLIVERDORAN
STYLING: CHLOE BOSHER @SOURCESTYLESHOOT
MAKE-UP (AMENI): LAURE SEJEAN @LAURESEJEAN
HAIR (AMENI): FADIA EL MENDELEK DUBAI @FADIAELMENDELEK_DUBAI
MAKE-UP & HAIR (HADEEL AND ZINA): DENNY CLEMENTS @DENNYMAKEUPDXB
ALL FASHION: MARINA RINALDI @MARINARINALDI
LOCATION: CRANK DUBAI @CRANK.DUBAI

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